Peaky Blinders walking tour launched in Birmingham

Cillian Murphy as Thomas Shelby in the BBC Peaky Blinders drama

Cillian Murphy as Thomas Shelby in the BBC Peaky Blinders drama

Local history enthusiasts, tourists and fans of the hit BBC2 drama Peaky Blinders are being offered a first-hand insight into the famous gang that once ruled the rough streets of Birmingham.

Although the drama series takes plenty of poetic licence the Peaky Blinders did exist – even if they weren’t led by someone as smooth and debonair by Irish actor Cillian Murphy.

Now people are being given the chance to walk the very streets where they lived and fought.

Peaky Tours have launched 90-minute guided walking tours inspired by the television drama to take people back to Birmingham’s dark and violent past of the 1880s.

The tours have been developed by entrepreneur Adrian Barrows in partnership with historian and University of Birmingham professor Carl Chinn.

As the tours progress, a handheld projector will be used to show old pictures of the time, displayed on nearby walls.

Adrian, who runs the tours with John Moore, said: “Birmingham has a lot of fascinating history but we are very poor at shouting about it.”

The Peaky Tours start at the Old Crown Inn on High Street, Deritend and end up at the Anchor Inn in Bradford Street.

En route the tour takes in The Rainbow pub in Adderley Street, the location of the first public reference to the Peaky Blinders.

It is the scene of what the Birmingham Post called “a murderous assault” on March 23 1890. George Eastwood was having a drink in The Rainbow but was humiliated by Thomas Mucklow and his friends for being teetotal.

They started insulting him, then followed him out and chased him to the railway viaduct in Adderley Street, where they hit him with their heavy belts. He banged his head on the kerbstone but managed to get up and run for his life. Terrified, he ran through the back-to-back houses of Trinity Street, banging on doors until someone eventually let him in to safety.

Mucklow was arrested and sent down for hard labour while reports in the newspapers referred to him being in the Small Heath Peaky Blinders. This is the first reference anywhere to the Peaky Blinders, which became a generic term for the gangs of Birmingham while London gangsters were called hooligans.

Also featured is Deritend Bridge, the scene of an 1875 battle involving the Bradford Street and Park Street gang. At that stage, before Peaky Blinders, the generic name for Birmingham gangs was Sloggers.

Another location featured is The Big Bull’s Head in Digbeth.

It is from this pub that charabancs full of the Peaky Blinders left for Epsom in 1921 to attack the Italian Sabini gang, an incident which inspired scenes in the second series of Peaky Blinders. It was on the racecourses that the gangs made huge amounts of money, by pickpocketing, taking the best pitches and charging the other bookies for everything including their blackboard chalk.

Thomas Shelby, the Peaky Blinder leader played by Cillian Murphy, is based on Billy Kimber, who actually appeared in the first series as a Cockney. Although he moved to London and later America, where he ended up mixing with Al Capone, he was a born-and-bred Brummie from Summer Lane. He was a Peaky Blinder as a youth, ending up in Winson Green in 1901 for wounding.

Speaking about the Peaky Blinders and their legacy, Carl Chinn said: “The TV series is probably the first high-quality drama about Brummies – stylish and dark with great cinematography and engaging characters. Steven Knight has done a great job mixing fact and fiction to tell compelling stories.

“In the TV series, Thomas Shelby is made out to be heroic but these men were nasty, ruthless thugs and not at all heroic,

“I am not glorifying the gangs and I also want to make clear that the majority of Birmingham folk in those days were decent and respectable, trying to make an honest living in the most difficult of circumstances.

“And did they really have razor blades sewn into the peak of their caps? It’s completely unfeasible to use a soft cap like that in a fight. But they were also far too expensive. As a new invention, they sold for 18 bob a time – more than a week’s wages.”

There are different types of tour, ranging from the basic £12.95 walking tour up to corporate tours which include a meal of faggots and peas at the Anchor and a Q&A with Carl Chinn. For more information visit www.peakytours.com.